Sprucans vs. LCS

I think CDR Sal spends a bit too  much time on the “coulda, woulda” part of this post discussing the plan to build the last Spruance class destroyer as a helicopter platform, but the main thrust of his post rings clear.

2. The facts. LCS-1 was commissioned in NOV08. Almost 5 years ago, and we have 4 LCS commissioned; two of each sub-class of LCS. The USS SPRUANCE (DD-963) was commissioned in SEP75. Five years later, in 1980, we had just commissioned hull 30, USS FLETCHER (DD-992). That left one ship in the class left, the USS HAYLER (DD-993) that we’ll get to in a minute. So, ummmm, no. Admiral Greenert, the experience we have having with LCS is quite significantly different than our experience with the SPRUANCE class. Shall we go on to OHP next? Let’s not and say we did; I want to stick with the Spru-cans.

The Spruance class destroyers were in many ways very revolutionary ships. They had an entirely new hull form, much, much larger than previous destroyers. Their primary mission was open ocean Anti-Submarine Warfare, as part of the escort for a carrier battle group. An important part of making an effective ASW ship was minimizing self-noise. And it is much easier to minimize self-noise on a larger ship than a smaller one. That was one of several factors driving the unprecedented size of the Sprucans. They were also the first major US warships to be powered by gas turbine engines.

Further, all the ships were built by a sole source contractor in a “winner take all” bid, virtually unknown to the Navy in those days. Litton built an entirely new production line to crank out the ships. It wasn’t without its problems, but with an average production of 6 ships per year, it, in the end, worked.

http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/u160000/u164534.jpg

Importantly, the ships were designed from the earliest days to have plenty of room for growth to adapt to new technologies. Plenty of reserve buoyancy and stability, electrical power and other utilities were built into the original platform because the designers knew that every ship gains weight and more equipment as it ages. This imposes an up front cost, but in the long run, often saves real money during future upgrades.

By 1980, plans were well in hand to modify the Spruance class with several important upgrades. A towed tactical sonar array would be added, vastly improving their long range ASW capability, the original LAMPS I SH-2F helicopters would be replaced by the bigger, far more capable LAMPS III SH-60B helicopter, armored box launchers for Tomahawk missiles would be planned, and the 20mm Phalanx Close In Weapon System would be planned to increase point defense against anti-ship missiles. Even further modifications would come later, with the Mk41 Vertical Launch System replacing the ASROC launcher.  While most of these changes weren’t envisioned from the start, the capability to make fairly extensive changes easily was.

Compare and contrast with the LCS-1 Freedom currently deployed to Singapore.

The strength of the entire LCS concept is supposed to be the “plug and play” modules the ship is designed to carry. But because the ship has been designed and built, while the modules are still in (troubled) development, as a practical matter, fixed constraints on size, weight, power, and other hotel loads have been placed on those modules. Further, as the modules are supposed to be deployable on either of the LCS variants, any limiting factor imposed by one variant, say, chill water availability, imposes that limitation on the module across both variants.

Further, because of an obsession with high speed, the LCS-1 has a semi-planing hull form that is very sensitive to increased loads. That is, increases in loaded displacement will have a greater negative effect on top speed and endurance than a similar increase in displacement would have on a conventional displacement hull.

Further, to beat a dead horse a bit more, the LCS program first sought two completely different variants to test the LCS concept at sea, and then choose which approach best suited the Navy’s needs (if either). But the shortcomings in hull numbers (largely a result of retiring Spruance class ships long before their useful service lives were consumed) meant the Navy decided to push ahead with serial production of not just one variant, but both, long before either ship had proven itself in any way shape or form. In fact, to date, both have been plagued by engineering troubles, corrosion, and problems with their combat systems. To some extent, this is fairly normal for a first-in-class ship, but as shown by the example of the Spruance class, the fleet shouldn’t need five years just to get one variant onto its first deployment, and still be struggling with keeping underway for more than 3 or 4 days at a time.

I am a strong proponent of seapower, and want to support a strong Navy. But given the utter inability of the Navy to make hard choices about what it truly needs in terms of shipbuilding, and its stubborn inability to cut its losses on a project that was ill conceived, and poorly managed, I find it almost impossible to trust Big Blue when it starts braying about the need for more money because of a strategic shift to the Pacific.